Opinion Brief

The 'epic' explosions on the surface of the sun

A massive solar flare erupts, but gravity pulls the streaks of fiery matter back onto the sun's surface

The video: Early Tuesday morning, NASA scientists witnessed something they rarely see: An 'epic' solar flare erupting on the surface of the sun, and blasting a billion tons of fiery material away from its surface. (See the video below). But instead of escaping out into space, much of the explosive material was dragged back down to the surface by the sun's gravitational pull, in what is called a coronal rain shower. The explosion dazzled NASA, released levels of radiation not seen since 2006, and covered almost half of the sun's diameter. The resulting radiation may interfere with communications on Earth on Wednesday and Thursday, but NASA says any impact will be "fairly small."

The reaction: "The size and scope of this thing are simply spectacular," says Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy. And what's amazing is that these explosions have the potential to get bigger. Wow, this video "might pass for a CGI [effect] from a summer disaster flick," says Matt Peckham at TIME, but frighteningly, it's our own sun. Eh, "it's not necessarily anything spectacular as far as space weather" goes, says NASA scientist C. Alex Young at the Atlantic Wire. "It's just really, really beautiful." Watch the massive solar flare:

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